Opponents of the niqab and hijab claim to be seeking liberty for wearers, but a ban would only oppress them.

When the now former Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, called the wearing of niqab "rooted in a culture that is anti-women", he used his words carefully.

He didn't refer to a culture of "patriarchy" because patriarchy is immediately recognisable as universal; "anti-women", however, like the word "anti-Christ", sounds evil, and in the minds of many, the link between evil and Islam has long been established.

In the UK, David Cameron reportedly wants to treat terrorists and extremists like paedophiles, banning them from working with children. The analogy with paedophiles is chosen to maximise our sense of loathing and disgust for terrorists who are, wrongly, assumed to be always Muslims. Once again, Islam is juxtapositioned with evil and contempt.

So Mr Harper, in his dismissal of the niqab, was tapping into established prejudices. There is no doubt that the disproportionate focus on the hijab and niqab stems from its connection to Islam and the potential political capital that exists in Islam-bashing.


Let's not forget that one of the roles of government is to enforce the common rights of its citizens regardless of the views of the majority - and the right to freedom of expression and religious practice are inalienable rights and should not be curtailed unless those rights interfere with common rights of others.

The willingness of veiled women to identify themselves privately, when required, removes the justification for banning the niqab.

By wanting to enforce the unveiling of women, Mr Harper and his supporters appeared as willing to oppress women as the religious extremists who force women to cover up.

Although Islam does not demand a niqab, women who choose to wear it do so as an extension of their religious beliefs that reject the objectification of women and manufactured views of beauty and liberty.

For many women, choosing to cover up is a statement of defiance to the normative representations of women as either consumers or merchandise.

This capitalist view of women is promoted by the likes of Miley Cyrus and her wrecking-ball brand that reduces women to their sexual allure and puts a veil on their true character and worth.

If you agree that the choice to cover less does not lead to liberty, then why assume that the choice to cover up more leads to oppression?

Surely, what is most problematic is the removal of choice and the imposition on women to conform to externally constructed expectations and views.


Hana Yosuf, in her brilliant must-see video for The Guardian, explains the role of the hijab as a feminist statement. She explains why the hijab is seen as a threat: " ... it is not because hijab poses any real threat to progressive social values but because it resists the commercial imperatives that support a consumer culture". She continues to say that for many women, the choice to cover up allows them to "reclaim their bodies and have full control over them".

Yosuf acknowledges the oppression of women who are forced to wear the hijab, sometimes through appalling violence. We need to fight the social and economic oppression of women wherever it happens, not replicate it.

I hope the likes of Nadia Hussain, the hijab-wearing winner of The Great British Bake Off, will convince more and more people to see Muslims as who they are: mothers, fathers, great bakers, doctors, scientists, cleaners, teachers and so on.

I am encouraged by the election of Justin Trudeau as the new Canadian Prime Minister. Unlike our own minister for women, Trudeau is proud to admit he is a feminist. Trudeau's rejection of politics of fear and division is truly inspirational. Here is what he had to say about fear:

"Fear is a dangerous thing. Once it is sanctioned by the state, there is no telling where it might lead. It is always a short path to walk from being suspicious of our fellow citizens to taking actions to restrict their liberty."

I hope New Zealand, like Canada, will also reject the politics of fear whenever it rears its ugly head.

Donna Miles-Mojab is a British-born, Iranian-bred, New Zealand citizen who lives in Christchurch.